February 15, 2019 7:14 pm

Winnipeg 911 operators contend with callers confused about Amber Alert

WATCH: After an Amber Alert was issued late Thursday, emergency operators in Winnipeg received calls from confused or angry citizens, tying up lines that would otherwise valid urgent calls.

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Some Winnipeggers were so upset or confused Thursday about an Amber Alert on their phones that they called 911.

The alert, about a missing Ontario girl, was instrumental in the arrest of the 11-year-old’s father and the sad discovery of her body.

It wasn’t, however, intended to be sent to Manitoba phones, and Winnipeg police were inundated by calls as a result.

READ MORE: Manitobans wrongly sent Ontario Amber Alert, province ‘exploring’ the issue

“This was unexpected. We didn’t expect this reaction from the public,” police Cst. Tammy Skrabek told Global News.

“A lot of it was misunderstanding, not knowing what it was, and a lot of people complaining about it.”

Winnipeg police shared some of the calls on their social media, which included questions like “is this a scam?”, “my phone messaged me to call 911”, and this exchange:

Caller: “My furnace is making a noise.”
Call taker: “That’s not your furnace, it’s your phone.”
Caller: “How do I turn it off?”

Skrabek said police understand there’s some unfamiliarity with the Alert Ready system, but that Winnipeggers need to be aware of the purpose of the 911 service.

“If somebody calls and they’re having a medical emergency and they call 911, all calls get screened through us,” she said.

“So if they need an ambulance and we’re tied up answering calls about why somebody received an amber alert, or ‘why am I subscribed to this?’, those calls can’t get through.

“There’s only so many call takers, and we don’t want people on hold on 911. That’s not an ideal situation.”

READ MORE: Lost jackets and bad Christmas presents: weird reasons Canadians called 911 in 2018

Police say inappropriate calls to 911 are a frequent, and frustrating, occurrence.

RCMP tweeted out Friday reminding people that the emergency number is “ONLY for emergencies” after someone called asking where he could rent a zamboni for a hockey tournament.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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